Further to our last alert of 12 March 2020, we now provide an update in relation to the fast moving UK immigration implications of coronavirus. As set out below, there is still a lack of clarity in terms of visa applications being submitted around the world and in the UK.
The Immigration team are in touch with Director level staff at the Home Office and seeking clarification on a number of issues affecting visa application and sponsor compliance during the crisis. We are urging UKVI and the Home Office to update its guidance of 27 February 2020 to provide greater clarity. However, in the meantime, through our regular communication channels with senior level contacts around the world, we can provide the following updates.
Visa application centres around the world
Many application centres are still open for those individuals who wish to submit visa applications. As expected there are though a number of closures and interruptions to the usual service standards. These include:
- Asia Pacific: Due to closure of the Manila regional visa hub, there are currently no priority services for applicants applying in for example Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong.
- USA: All non-premium biometric application centres ASCs operated by USCIS in the US are closed as of yesterday. The Premium Application Centres (PACs) all remain open for the time being and our contacts are due to update us in relation to whether somebody who has a non-premium appointment can switch it to a PAC without the higher charges being applicable. The indications at the moment are that it is not possible, albeit the usual ‘walk in’ fees would not be applicable. The PACs in Seattle and San Francisco are currently closed. We are due to have a conference call with our contacts on 20 March for a briefing on the service levels and availability of application centres around the world. We will update on that.
- Europe: All TLS contact Centres are closed for UK visa applicants. We will be speaking to TLS to ensure better communications as to when centres are reopening.
- UK : Sopra Steria application centres in the UK remain open for the time being. There have been reports of closures of some locations for certain application types (e.g. local libraries and Councils).
- Tier 2 workers with 30 day entry visas who are unable to travel: Where the visa holder cannot travel within the 30 day entry visa, they must normally obtain a fresh visa and attend a biometric appointment abroad. We have asked for this to be waived and for those whose BRPs have been issued to be able to travel to the UK when they are able to do so without the need for a fresh visa. We will update on this issue.
- Tier 2 visa holders: remote working and reporting: We have heard back from our senior contact at the Home Office confirming that where a sponsored worker is required to work from home as a result of coronavirus, the sponsor is not required to report a change of work location.
- Ending the employment of sponsored workers: Where sponsors are considering ending sponsored workers’ employment, please contact us for further advice. A report would need to be made to the Home Office and the individual would then have a period of curtailed leave in order to try to regularise their UK immigration position. We have written to our contacts at the Home Office in relation to the possibility of showing such sponsored workers a degree of leniency such that the usual 60 day curtailment notice period could be extended.
- Absences and Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR): We are receiving a number of queries about the impact of absences on ILR, particularly from staff stuck outside the UK. At present, guidance for absences over the 180 days permitted under Tier 2 allows excess absences resulting from natural disaster and for those involved in humanitarian rescue operations overseas. We expect this guidance to be updated to include COVID-19 related issues with travel and returning to the UK. Our best advice at present is to ensure that Tier 2 holders keep clear evidence of why they were unable to return, such as the lack of flights, national government edicts preventing local and international travel or medical advice against travel.
- Those with visas expiring in the UK: As mentioned in our last alert of 12 March, Chinese nationals and those normally resident in China have in some circumstances had their visas automatically extended to 31 March 2020. We anticipate that such a measure may well be required for others who have imminently expiring visas.
- Right to work (RTW) checks: For new starters who have just arrived in the UK where the office is closed, remote working is in place or where the person is having to self-isolate, there may be issues with completing RTW checks . The following alternatives are available:
Online Checking Service
Employers will be able to make a valid RTW check using the online checking service for those recruits who have a Biometric Residence Permit, Biometrics Residence Card or status under the EU Settlement Scheme.
Remote RTW Checks
UKVI have confirmed that where a physical documents check and copying is not possible, employers can instead have a Skype/Zoom or other video meeting with the new starter, who can show their RTW document by video to the employer. In addition, the recruit can take a photo or scan of their RTW document and send it to the employer. Those steps should be taken before the employment starts. A contemporaneous file note can be made stating why the employer has not carried out a valid RTW check. As soon as the recruit is able to show their original documents in person, the employer should take a compliant copy of those documents. Again, we suggest another file note is made to state why that RTW check is being made after the employment commenced.
As and when the Home Office guidance is updated and we hear more from our contacts around the world, we will update you. In the meantime, if you have any UK immigration queries in relation to Coronavirus or otherwise, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the immigration team.